Archive for the 'Education' Category

Don’t get fooled again


The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania has created a great classroom Internet news tool, FactcheckED. It has very practical advice for helping students detect fraud in political advertising and propaganda. Another good source for researching PR and spin is the site, PR Watch.
FactcheED provides this simple and awesome checklist for detecting bias…

A Process for Avoiding Deception

1. Keep an open mind. Most of us have biases, and we can easily fool ourselves if we don’t make a conscious effort to keep our minds open to new information. Psychologists have shown over and over again that humans naturally tend to accept any information that supports what they already believe, even if the information isn’t very reliable. And humans also naturally tend to reject information that conflicts with those beliefs, even if the information is solid. These predilections are powerful. Unless we make an active effort to listen to all sides we can become trapped into believing something that isn’t so, and won’t even know it.

2. Ask the right questions. Don’t accept claims at face value; test them by asking a few questions. Who is speaking, and where are they getting their information? How can I validate what they’re saying? What facts would prove this claim wrong? Does the evidence presented really back up what’s being said? If an ad says a product is “better,” for instance, what does that mean? Better than what?

3. Cross-check. Don’t rely on one source or one study, but look to see what others say. When two or three reliable sources independently report the same facts or conclusions, you can be more confident of them. But when two independent sources contradict each other, you know you need to dig more deeply to discover who’s right.

4. Consider the source. Not all sources are equal. As any CSI viewer knows, sometimes physical evidence is a better source than an eyewitness, whose memory can play tricks. And an eyewitness is more credible than somebody telling a story they heard from somebody else. By the same token, an Internet website that offers primary source material is more trustworthy than one that publishes information gained second- or third-hand. For example, official vote totals posted by a county clerk or state election board are more authoritative than election returns reported by a political blog or even a newspaper, which can be out of date or mistaken.

5. Weigh the evidence. Know the difference between random anecdotes and real scientific data from controlled studies. Know how to avoid common errors of reasoning, such as assuming that one thing causes another simply because the two happen one after the other. Does a rooster’s crowing cause the sun to rise? Only a rooster would think so.

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The Future is Lost


I was a big fan of Lost, but since moving to Europe I have not been able to watch it. ABC blocks foreign access to the free viewings available in the US. Though news of the Lost college course is being offered is old news, I found the following post interesting. Some critics still think studying pop culture is a waste, but I found from my own study of the program an emerging critique of our media and electronic system. You can read some of these thoughts on one of my previous posts here. In it I wrote:

The surprise breakout on ABC is most definitely not your average program, and the one thing that keeps me interested is my view that Lost’s island is a metaphor for the mediated reality we find ourselves in. The island’s environment, inhabited by ghosts and “the others,” is like a dream space in which objects produce their own space, similar to the acoustic-like, all encompassing ecology of media where we currently live. The plane is our civilization, crashed, destroyed, in pieces. The survivors must learn to cope with their new environment, just as we have to adjust to ours.

Podcast: A ‘Lost’ college course, tons o’ new music and more – Pop Candy –

The Future is Lost: Economic, Social, and Technological Impact of a Cult (and Cultural) Phenomenon

The course: When a plane crashed on more than 18.5 million American television screens in September 2004, a new television show had taken up the mantle of “cult hit.” Lost, seemingly a mix of Survivor and The X-Files, was an instant paradox: a mainstream media blockbuster that defied categorization and appealed to some of the most fringe elements of human nature. In three short years, the show has spawned an empire of entertainment, marketing, and community that eclipses the show itself. Its producers have pushed Lost to the bleeding edge of new media; online communities take pride in dissecting each episode, from literary references to philosophical allusion; and the show’s format has inspired dozens of copycats on networks desperate to adapt to a newly demanding audience. This course is an interdisciplinary endeavor into the heart of the phenomenon. We’ll examine the economic circumstances that led to the development of the show, the societal context that it evolves in, and the possible effects of the show on technology and the future of media.

Mostly tyros eschew 640-802 and its likes e.g. 70-296 and 220-601. This puerile decision results in bad results. The combat, they should go for 642-812 or 220-602. An easier way out is to attempt 70-620 only.

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Rebooting the classroom with DIY social networks

Anastasia Goodstein of YPulse and author of Totally Wired refers to a great article in Wired about how some classrooms are getting smart about incorporating online social networks rather than resisting them. At the center of this paradigm shift is an interesting software package, Elgg. I think the idea of a DIY social network in your classroom could get students to direct more energy and attention to what is happening in the class program than outside of it.

Here Goodstein discusses some ways teachers could jump to the new paradigm in an imaginary Web 2.0 bootcamp:

Ypulse: Media for the Next Generation:

The challenge for teachers is to find ways of adopting and integrating technology students are fluent with outside of class inside the class room in ways that are educational and help them accomplish their core teaching objectives (vs. just make class less boring). All of this got me thinking again about a post I did a long time ago where I suggested that the big tech companies join together and create “bootcamps” for every public school teacher in this country. Instead of just giving them more free versions of Power Point, immerse teachers in the technology their students are fluent with and explain how young people use it and why they love it. Here’s a sample “teacher bootcamp” schedule:

Let’s get social. Teachers learn how social networking got its start, tour the most popular sites with teens and create profiles on MySpace and Facebook. Teachers or librarians who have used social networking successfully in an educational capacity come in and present case studies.

Teens & their iPods, a love story. Every teacher gets an iPod. They tour the sites where teens download music for free and then go to iTunes and get to create their own playlist. Teachers who have integrated iPods into the classroom successfully present case studies.

Blog it! Teachers are given a virtual tour of the most popular blogging sites/software with teens. Every teacher sets up a blog, learns how to link and upload photos, comments on each other’s blogs. Teachers who have used blogs successfully in class present case studies.

Game on. Teachers are given a virtual tour of the most popular video games and online games with teens – including virtual worlds. Case studies then given on how educational games or educational activities in some virtual worlds are helping teens.

You get the drift. The idea would be immerse teachers, let them play with the technology in the same way kids do, then have the trailblazing teachers show them how these technologies can be used in ways that are educational. I think every teacher at bootcamp should also have a teen partner who does all of this stuff with them — and ideally who can be a TA (and help with tech support) when teachers go back to the class room, hopefully armed with more than just free software.

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Life and music

This nice little animation of Alan Watts commenting on the folly of education and other things. Very nice. Enjoy! (Thanks Rob!)

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Tufts University New Literacy

I wish I could be there this summer! Click the link for more info.

Tufts University New Literacy:

Rather than squander the energy and attention that most students give to media, savvy educators know that it’s better to direct it in positive and pro-social ways.

But in the era of “accountability” and “standards-based education,” where does media literacy fit?

This 4 day Tufts University Institute for Media Literacy will give teachers the tools to better understand the world of media in which their students are immersed. Teachers will learn to use media and the skills of media literacy to help teach students critical thinking, problem solving and other key components of an integrative and interdisciplinary education. They will learn how to integrate this material into existing curriculum in ways to make learning more engaging for their students.

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Job announcement


A fun opportunity. Check it out.

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‘No Child’ indeed!


From the family that brought you the Iraq War now comes a curriculum that profits from No Child Left Behind funds. Rest assured, your child’s future is in good hands. For example, view the sample lesson from their COW (Curriculum on Wheels) system in the above video. It’s on the history of “Habeas Corpus”; you may agree the lesson is in dire need of some media literacy. It’s curious how it repeatedly justifies the suspension of the law.

Further thoughts. If you go to to Ignite Learning‘s Web site and click on the “easy-to-use” button, what you see is a completely closed system. I think “cow” is an appropriate name. Make your students go “Moo”! Making education more like television, which this system seems to emulate, is not the answer. It would appear that in the case of COW the teacher is merely a manager of the curriculum, not an engaged, free thinking agent. There is something terribly frightening about making kids watch lessons in TV-like packages and then train them to repeat what they see. My hope is that kids are savvy and smart enough to see through this crap and reject it outright. I hate to say this but this is one situation when truancy might be the best educational strategy.

BTW, just because someone can pass a draconian test doesn’t mean they have learned anything. It just proves that their brain has been pulverized to a mind numbing pulp. Ack, how much more corrupt can our system get?

Bush’s Family Profits from ‘No Child’ Act:

Most of Ignite’s business has been obtained through sole-source contracts without competitive bidding. Neil Bush has been directly involved in marketing the product.

In addition to federal or state funds, foundations and corporations have helped buy Ignite products. The Washington Times Foundation, backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the South Korea-based Unification Church, has peppered classrooms throughout Virginia with Ignite’s COWs under a $1-million grant.

Oil companies and Middle East interests with long political ties to the Bush family have made similar bequests. Aramco Services Co., an arm of the Saudi-owned oil company, has donated COWs to schools, as have Apache Corp., BP and Shell Oil Co.

Neil Bush said he is a businessman who does not attempt to exert political influence, and he called The Times’ inquiries about his venture — made just before the election — “entirely political.”

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War of (media) worlds


This video by Kansas State University’s Mike Wesch explains so much better than text as to why new media are in many ways vastly superior modes of production and communication, which begs the question: how is an education system based on 19th Century modes of thinking going to deal with this emerging reality? More importantly, how will society grapple with this interlinked, intertextual, networked form of exchange? To quote McLuhan:

The United States of 2020 will achieve a distinct psychological shift from a dependence on visual, uniform, homogeneous thinking, of a left-hemisphere variety, to a multi-faceted configurational mentality which we have attempted to define as audile-tactile, right-hemisphere thinking. In other words, instead of being captured by point-to-point linear attitudes,… most Americans will be able to tolerate many different thought systems at once, some based on antagonistic ethnic

(From Global Village– a book I HIGHLY recommend!)

The last phrase, “antagonistic ethnic heritages,” might seem a bit antiquated, but I believe McLuhan means that some cultures have different learned perceptual modes that are circular, and therefor may seem “backwards” to Westerners, but are in fact better capable of interfacing the multidimensional realm that new media are moving in. McLuhan has also stated that wars can be the result of clashing paradigms, not just of the opposing society, but as a means of controlling the internal society’s evolving dynamic. In other words, the war in Iraq could be as much about asserting a dominant mode of perception and control locally as it is about dominating a foreign territory.

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Leaving children behind


Lately I’ve taken a break from teaching to focus on writing about education. Like most of us, I am pretty depressed about the state of our schools, and even more distraught that there is little criticism of No Child Left Behind coming to public attention. I truly hope the Democrats advocate for the abolition of this horrendous atrocity of education legislation rather than adding more fuel to the fire by expanding its funding. Sure it sounds great that we should give education more funding, but when you discover the nature of that education policy it gives one pause. The following article contains a bulleted list of why this program is so awful (I highlited the main point that interests me):

Truthdig – Reports – Leaving Children Behind:

The real problem is that students are disengaged from their education, and disengaged students ultimately drop out, as more than 50 percent do in large urban and poor rural schools. The antidote to dropouts is a rich and diverse curriculum offered under improved teaching conditions.

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Are ‘Baby Einsteins’ marching to war?

Marketplace: Iraq war justified? Maybe for Baby Einsteins:

By targeting babies, companies are marketing not just products but lifelong habits, hardwiring dependence on media before babies even have a chance to grow and develop the way they do it best, through hands-on creative play. And it’s through playing that children learn, among other things, skills essential to thriving in and protecting democratic society — critical thinking, initiative, problem solving and empathy.

That’s in contrast to what children learn from the more than 40 hours a week they spend with commercially-dominated media — unthinking brand loyalty, impulse buying and a belief that all the world’s a market. Corporate values embraced and pushed by the Bush administration.

During the build-up to the Iraq war, the President’s chief of staff was asked why Bush waited until September to promote the invasion. He replied, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

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Refusing an Inconvenient Truth

The story of National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)refusing a donation of DVDs by Inconvenient Truth co-producer Laurie David is flying all over the blogosphere right now. The following post from the Think Progress blog has a great link to the kind of oil and coal industry curricula the NATA does accept (it’s about a teen girl who discovers what life is like without petroleum, such as no lipstick!). Just goes to show there is nothing “neutral” about education, or the media used for teaching. But this being a “teachable moment,” I hope educators will show the Inconvenient Truth and the oil industry video linked below to teach about bias, not only in media, but in energy consumption as well. I encourage clicking through to the Think Progress post to read the whole thing.

Think Progress » Science Teachers’ Organization Refuses To Accept Copies of Inconvenient Truth:

In tomorrow’s Washington Post, global warming activist Laurie David writes about her effort to donate 50,000 free DVD copies of An Inconvenient Truth (which she co-produced) to the National Science Teachers Association. The Association refused to accept the DVDs:

In their e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that other “special interests” might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn’t want to offer “political” endorsement of the film; and they saw “little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members” in accepting the free DVDs. …

[T]here was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.”

As it turns out, those supporters already include “special interests,” including Exxon-Mobil, Shell Oil, and the American Petroleum Institute, which have given millions in funding to the NSTA. And while the NSTA showed no interest in helping educators get copies of Al Gore’s movie (which scientists gave “five stars for accuracy“), it has distributed oil industry-funded “educational” content, like this video produced by the American Petroleum Institute: (click this link to see the video)

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MacArthur spotlight

I’m currently writing a chapter on Native America, education and digital learning for the MacArthur Foundation, who is publishing a seminal six book series on the subject next year. My chapter will be in the “Race and Ethnicity” volume. MacArthur is investing a lot of resources ($50 million!) into this project and is making a conscious effort to create a new field of study on the subject.

Part of their effort to draw attention to the project is their “Spotlight” blog, which highlights some of the ideas and insights of the authors. I posted to it today, and you can view it here. A short snip:

The Nunga (southern Australian aborigines) have a term for the mental software of the European colonizers: “Invader Dreaming.” I take this to be a compact description of a mentality, one that is of the “invaders,” but one that also “invades.”

And just as I view advertising as the dream life of corporations, I think its fair to say that digital media is a kind of dream world that requires critical inspection. Consequently, I’m interested in what sociologists refer to as “subjectivities,” ways of perceiving and being in the world and how they impact communities. As an educator and writer engaging different media forms in Native American classrooms, I want to extend this discussion to a broader understanding of communication systems as mental and spiritual environments, or as ”media ecologies.” As Neil Postman remarks, “When media make war against each other, it is a case of worldviews in collision.”

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